Despite Divided Opinions on their Practices and Prospects, Open Access Mega-Journals Command Significant Presence

With Interest Table: March 2012, March 12, 2012 | © Courtesy of With Associates/Flickr.
With Interest Table: March 2012, March 12, 2012 | © Courtesy of With Associates/Flickr.

A recent meta-analysis of mega-journal-related qualitative and quantitative findings by Valerie Spezi et al. (2017) indicates that Open Access mega-journals have become an established part of the scholarly publishing market, in spite of diverging views on their long-term effect on the marketplace.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.

In their study, Spezi et al. (2017) have examined the evolution of Open Access scientific mega-journals as a publishing format that enjoys increasing following among scholarly publishers, scientific societies and market entrants. The Public Library of Science, which launched PLOS One in 2006, is one of the more visible players in this field, even though the number of articles published across its mega-journals appears to have peaked at over 35,000 papers in 2013. Despite this, and especially in the science, technology, and medicine (STM) areas, multiple mega-journals, such as Scientific Reports, BMJ Open, PeerJ and F1000, have been launched in recent years. While these journals are hailed as future-oriented and disruptive, they continue to look for sustainable economic models, as some of mega-journals are externally subsidized.

Moreover, in previous years the editorial standards of mega-journals have been the subject of much discussion, as these journals have sought to establish their positioning in the publishing marketplace. Despite these concerns, the number of articles published in academic journals has increased exponentially in the last decade. For instance, whereas PLOS One has published only 1,239 articles in 2007, the yearly volume of papers of this mega-journal has ballooned by more than 25 times to 34,404 papers in 2013. Even though its output has declined to 27,488 in 2015, PLOS One, which peer-reviews its submissions for scientific soundness, has been found to be the world’s largest scientific journal in 2016, which attests to the global success of this mega-journal and the growth potential of this publishing market segment.

Additionally, mega-journals are receptive to the deployment of alternative article-level performance and impact metrics, which sets them apart from traditional scientific periodicals the reputation of which tends to be assessed through journal-level impact factor metrics. Mega-journals are also Open Access, which requires that article processing charges (APCs) are levied, as part of their business models. Mega-journals also tend to have rapid publication cycles, which is likely to provide them with a competitive advantage vis-à-vis market incumbents. Due to the high volumes of articles published, the estimated number of mega-journals varies from 14 to 35, which could be due to market share cannibalization, as the subject areas of these journals overlap in many cases. Indeed, in February 2018, PeerJ has announced a promotional, temporary waiver of APCs, which has spurred both an explosive surge in its paper submissions and doubts about the viability of its business model in view of its declining output in recent years and slim prospects of financial returns for its venture capital investors.

This could be due to a high degree of market concentration in this publishing sector, as only 11 mega-journals are considered to be prominent, they tend to cluster in STM subject areas and PLOS One enjoys a predominant position in this journal group, as its articles accounted for over 61% of 44,820 articles published by these more established mega-journals in 2015. In other words, even though the mega-journal model has matured in recent years, due to their exposure to market forces, as part of their Open Access business models, mega-journals may be tempted to self-cannibalize by lowering or waiving their APCs, in a bid to improve their market positioning.

By Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: With Interest Table: March 2012, March 12, 2012 | © Courtesy of With Associates/Flickr.

This article has originally appeared in OpenScience, 11/03/2018,

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